Creating Equity for Your LGBTQ+ Workforce: A Q&A with a Corporate VP
Workspan Daily
June 13, 2024
Key Takeaways

  • Understand the impact of existing authentically. In inclusive workplaces, LGBTQ+ employees don’t have to pause to consider the consequences of sharing details about their lives.
  • Foster communication and culture. Beyond inclusive benefits — which are important — LGBTQ+ candidates are looking for employers who openly articulate support.
  • Avoid exploitation. Don’t just ask LGBTQ+ workers or ERGs for a public statement during Pride Month; regularly invite them to offer insights on other business initiatives. 

Sarah Lewis-Kulin (pictured above) is the vice president of global recognition and research at Great Place To Work. She oversees the research methodology and selection of Great Place To Work’s Best Workplaces lists. She and her wife have been married for more than two decades and have two children. In this article, she shares with WorldatWork her insights on creating an equitable workplace — one that supports LGBTQ+ employees year-round.

Workspan Daily: What are some of your experiences related to being an LGBTQ+ employee?

Lewis-Kulin: My wife and I have been married three different times, at different points when it was legally recognized. Initially, when I got married, we had the same wedding shower at Great Place To Work as all my other colleagues did. The company treated me with the same equity and care as everyone else — which was actually pretty notable at the time because my marriage was not legal at first.

Just as meaningful, I was included in the same day-to-day small talk that everyone else engaged in. People would ask how I met my wife, remember her name, ask about her. I had no sense that my life was taboo.

I’ve had moments where a client will say, “What does your husband do?” It takes a toll to have to pause during such simple small talk to ask yourself, “How honestly will I answer this? How do I think this person will react? Can I risk the account?” For me, just being in a workplace where you can exist, where someone can say, “What did you do this weekend?” and I can answer honestly, “I went hiking with my wife,” that’s the baseline. It has a huge impact.

“Being inclusive gives you access to the full range of the best talent.”

WD: How can companies ensure they are attracting diverse candidates — and why is inclusion so important?

Lewis-Kulin: Candidates will ask themselves: “Can I get promoted here? Do I matter here? Will I be invested in? Will I be safe? Is there a way for my voice to influence the decisions a company makes?”

Being inclusive gives you access to the full range of the best talent. You want your company to have the input and skills to have your products and services appeal to the full range of the marketplace. Great Place To Work research has found that companies that create great workplaces for all their people have triple the stock returns of the typical company and half the turnover, and they financially outperformed during the last recession and recovered faster.

WD: What are examples of companies that are effectively supporting their LGBTQ+ employees? 

Lewis-Kulin: World Wide Technology worked with its PRIDE employee resource group (ERG) to create an LGBTQIA+ guide with links to provider networks, paths to parenthood support, and information about family leave and legal coverage.

Power Home Remodeling hosts a three-day Pride event in a different city each year, flying in LGBTQ+ community members and allies for education, volunteering, team bonding and celebrations.

Marriott has many ERGs, including their company’s LGBTQ+ ERG, which participates in marketing focus groups and weighs in on sales efforts.

Adobe partners with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce as part of its strategy to increase its supply chain diversity.

HP has a social justice task force, which in part advocates for legal protections for interracial and LGBTQ+ marriages. It also has an LGBTQ+ healthcare coordinator who connects employees to welcoming healthcare providers, resources for coming out, advice about parenting an LGBTQ+ child, and information about family-building and other company benefits.

WD: What steps can companies take to be more inclusive?

Lewis-Kulin: Great Place To Work found that even at “great workplaces,” LGBTQ+ employees are 7% less likely to have a psychologically and emotionally healthy work environment. And the current political climate and legal landscape is a scary one for LGBTQ+ employees, particularly for trans people and their families. Benefits and policies that support employee wellness and ensure they feel safe in the workplace are critically important. 

Gender-affirming care and fertility benefits, wellness programs with particular attention to cultural competence, ERGs with budgets and real influence in the organization, professional development investments, on-call legal support, benefits that are written to be intentionally inclusive, and overall storytelling and visibility in the workplace are key programs with big impacts.

WD: How can employers highlight their LGBTQ+ employees’ experiences and utilize their expertise without being exploitative?

Lewis-Kulin: You never want to ask someone to share their story if they feel any discomfort; make sure they feel comfortable opting out. But, also appreciate them for the contribution they’re making because it can feel vulnerable.

You are exploiting your people’s stories if the only time you reach out to your Black employees is during Black History Month or to your LGBTQ+ employees during Pride Month. But if you are consistent the rest of the year, and you also value their insights and experience related to new product launches or their input on new benefit programs and the employee handbook — if you regularly create those kinds of opportunities to meaningfully impact decisions — then that involvement doesn’t feel exploitative; it feels like a mutual relationship.

WD: For employers in states that lack LGBTQ+ protections, how can they attract and support LGBTQ+ employees?

Lewis-Kulin: The biggest benefit that will attract employees is having a safe and respectful workplace. That’s why Great Place To Work certifies companies as “great workplaces” based on their employees’ own feedback.

There are already plenty of LGBTQ+ folks in these states who’d love to work for a workplace where they’ll be respected and can bring their best selves to the workplace. These employers have a chance to stand out and ensure they are attractive to the best talent.

Offering remote work can help companies recruit beyond state lines. Better yet, your company can lobby, and maybe you can change the laws in that state.

“Your employees are watching to see how you treat the LGBTQ+ community and if your actions match your words.”

WD: How can companies extend their support beyond a single event or monthlong designation?

Lewis-Kulin: The key thing we find that distinguishes great workplaces from the typical workplace is the extent to which their people trust leaders. Your employees are watching to see how you treat the LGBTQ+ community and if your actions match your words.

LGBTQ+ people are not looking for a really great June with Pride flags everywhere. They want to make sure the company’s day-to-day actions demonstrate they’re going to be respected and cared for in July as well. Otherwise, Pride Month is simply performative and manipulative.

Can you demonstrate there are other people and families in your workplace that are queer? Can you get involved in communities through a queer lens — for instance, donate or have volunteer activities at organizations that support homeless youth, which often have a very high percentage of LGBTQ+ people? Do you support LGBTQ+ businesses in your supply chain? Do you have ongoing mechanisms for LGBTQ+ employees to influence business decisions related to workplace benefits, their representation in marketing campaigns, or product and sales opportunities in their community? This is a win-win for you and employees.

Editor’s Note: Additional Content

For more information and resources related to this article, see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics:

Also, check out additional articles on equity and the LGBTQ+ workforce:

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